Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Malik Ouzia

England embarrassed by Afghanistan to leave Cricket World Cup defence hanging by a thread

Afghanistan produced one of the greatest Cricket World Cup upsets of all-time to stun an abject England in Delhi.

The relative minnows had only ever won once in 50-over World Cups, when beating Scotland in 2015, and lost all nine of their matches during the group stage four years ago, but were every bit as outstanding as the defending champions were poor on their way to a 69-run victory, surely the most famous in their cricketing history.

England appeared to have gotten their campaign back on track by beating Bangladesh on Tuesday, having been routed by New Zealand in their opening game, but now face an uphill task to qualify for the semi-finals. With six matches still to play, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to think that Jos Buttler’s side could turn their form around to reach the last-four, but on this showing any chance of retaining the title appears slim.

Doubts over the strength of England’s seam bowling attack were again vindicated as Rahmanullah Gurbaz led a lightning start, his free-flowing 80 from 57 balls making up the bulk of a century opening stand, before Afghanistan defied a middle-over slow-down to post 284 after being asked to bat first.

In reply, England were timid, losing the key wickets of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow inside the powerplay and too quickly retreating into their shell on a ground where India had chased a similar total in just 35 overs against the same opposition earlier in the week.

Harry Brook was the exception, the Yorkshireman’s 66 from 61 balls keeping the chase alive, but when he was snared by the excellent Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who took three wickets, there were still 116 runs required and only two tail-end wickets in hand. Fittingly, it was Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s talisman and global superstar, who nabbed them both.

Afghanistan have long threatened a result like this, arriving at each global tournament a more complete side than the last, but more often than not, struggling to compete with the batting resources of the leading nations.

The emergences of 21-year-old openers Ibrahim Zadran and Gurbaz had provided reason to believe that heading into this World Cup, things might be different and the latter offered an indication as to why with an innings of real swagger against the new-ball.

Chris Woakes was again troublingly loose up top and pulled from the attack after three overs that cost 31 runs. His replacement, Sam Curran, did not fare any better, driven, flicked and pulled for three consecutive boundaries by Gurbaz as his two powerplay overs went for a further 26, a rampant Afghanistan eventually reaching drinks on 106 without loss.

Bad looked to have become worse when Reece Topley, comparatively tight in the powerplay, limped off after jarring his knee in the field, but, happily, the quick was later able to return to bowling, by which point England’s spinners had wrestled back control.

Adil Rashid was the key, splitting the opening pair by dismissing Zadran on his way to his best World Cup figures of three-for-42, but the major breakthrough came two overs later. Having just seen Rahmat Shah stumped off Rashid, Afghanistan skipper Hashmatullah Shahidi came to the crease needing to exert calm but instead set off in frantic pursuit of a non-existent single and left the irate Gurbaz run-out by yards.

Sussing spin as the way to go, England applied the squeeze, Liam Livingstone claiming an excellent one-for-33 as the all-rounder bowled a full quota of 10 overs for the first time in an ODI, while Root was also among the wickets and everywhere in the field, taking four catches including a stunning diving effort on the boundary to remove the dangerous Rashid Khan.

Mark Wood aside, though, England’s seamers continued to struggle as Ikram Alikhil’s half-century took Afghanistan within four runs of their highest ever World Cup score by the time they were all-out off the penultimate ball.

Afghanistan had gotten nowhere near defending a total only 12 runs smaller against India five days earlier, but belief was soon charging through the ranks as they chipped away at the English order with regular success.

Bairstow was furious to be given lbw to a ball only clipping leg-stump, while Root, as is his curse, got one that kept low, but by and large England’s dismissals were tame, every recognised batter bar Brook falling while striking at well shy of a run-a-ball.

Only with Brook’s exit did the magnitude of what lay within touching distance threaten to inhibit Afghanistan, the final two wickets adding a brisk 46 runs. Rashid, though, held his nerve to seal an historic, deserved success.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.